How Apple’s Geniuses work, and how it might help with welcoming people at church

This piece from Gizmodo is fascinating. Gizmodo got hold of one of Apple’s training manuals. It’s the kind of thing that church welcoming programs should be built on – if not a little bit artificial… I’d say add some humanity to this stuff and you go a long way towards making the people who come through your doors feel at home.

” Page 39 gives a rundown of Selling Gadget Joy, by way of the “Genius Skills, Behaviors, and Values Checklist.” Selling is a science, summed up with five cute letters: (A)pproach, (P)robe, (P)resent, (L)isten, (E)nd. In other words: Go up to someone and get them to open up to you about their computing desires, insecurities, and needs; offer them choices (of things to buy); hear them out; then seal the day in a way that makes it feel like the customer has come to this decision on their own. The manual condemns pushiness—that’s a good thing—but it also preaches a form of salesmanship that’s slightly creepy: every Apple customer should feel empowered, when it’s really the Genius pulling strings.”

Part of the problem with applying this stuff to real relationships is that real relationships don’t come with a manual… and if you think the relationship you’re entering is coming by the manual, it’s really off putting…

It’s interesting that the Genius training relies on role playing, and constant feedback from fellow team members (though such feedback probably suffers from the same authenticity issue as knowing that a conversation is happening by the book).

From Gizmodo…

On page 58, it’s described as an “open dialogue every day,” with “positive intent.” It’s most certainly not “telling someone they are wrong.” Except that it is—just prevented in a quintessentially Genius mode of masterful empathy and supercharged positivity aura.

On page 60, the following dialogue is presented as a realistic sample conversation between two Apple employees:

“Hi, fellow Genius. I overheard your conversation with your customer during the last interaction and I have some feedback if you have a moment. Is this a good time?”
“Yes, this is a good time.”
“You did a great job resolving the customer’s iPhone issue. I was concerned with how quickly you spoke to the customer. It seemed like you were rushing through the interaction, and the customer had additional questions.”

A few minutes later:

“Thanks for listening to the feedback. In the future, please make sure to signal me if you need help rather than work too quickly with a customer.
“Thanks for giving it!”

The bit that definitely doesn’t translate to the welcoming lounge, or cup of coffee after the service, is the “never apologise for a problem” rule that staff have to obey…

“The term “empathy” is repeated ad nauseum in the Genius manual. It is the salesman sine qua non at the Apple Store, encouraging Geniuses to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes,” assuming that mile ends at a credit card swipe machine. It is not, the book insists in bold type, “Sympathy, which is the ability to feel sorry for someone.” Geniuses are directly told not to apologize in a manner anyone would call direct. If someone walks in sobbing because their hard drive is fried, you’ll receive no immediate consolation. “Do not apologize for the business [or] the technology,” the manual commands. Instead, express regret that the person is expressing emotions. A little mind roundabout: “I’m sorry you’re feeling frustrated,” or “too bad about your soda-spill accident,” the book suggests.”

The blacklist of no go words or topics is potentially worth thinking about – nothing kills the buzz of a good experience of a service like a negative conversation, or a jargony conversation, or a conversation where a person plays down the impact of the gospel or what being part of a church community means to them, straight after the service. While we love a bit of self-deprecation I’m not sure a conversation with a new person, where you roll out dirty laundry and skeletons, is a winning move (a bit like featuring your proud “brony” status on an online dating profile)

“Negativity is the mortal sin of the Genius. Disagreement is prohibited, as are a litany of normal human tendencies outlined on page 80, which contradict the virtue of empathy: consoling, commiserating, sympathizing, and taking blame are all verboten. Correcting a mistaken or confused customer should be accomplished using the phrase “turns out,” which Apple says “takes you out of the middle of an issue,” and also makes the truth seem like something that just arrived serendipitously. For example, on page 82:

Customer: The OS isn’t supported.
Genius: You’d think not, wouldn’t you. Turns out it is supported in this version.”

I’d love to read the whole thing, and I guess these are my take homes as I think about welcoming people at our church…

1. It’s important to be clear about what we’re aiming to do with welcoming. The list of “we do x” lines above essentially function like plumb lines and are a really helpful set of commitments. We want people to meet Jesus when they come to our church, and ultimately to connect with him, and us.

2. It’s important to understand people, where they’re coming from, what they’re thinking and feeling. Without thinking that you know what they need before hand. This seems kind of obvious – but Apple spends a fair bit of time talking about physical cues, and the “Approach, Probe, Present, Listen” thing is a nice proactive way of engaging with a new person.

3. We want to free people to be real people – but this means choosing the right people to be welcomers. I am repulsed by doing interpersonal relating “by the book.” It seems fake because it is. If you need a book to stop people being off-putting, or negative, or wrecking your product – then you’re putting the wrong people in the front line.

4. Constant, robust (not passive aggressive) feedback in a team is really helpful for getting better. One of the things I’ve really enjoyed being part of the Connect Team at Creek Road is a weekly get together I have with leaders of our connect teams at other services. We come up with ideas, share stories about people who have come to our Connect Lounge. And think about how we can be more helpful to new people and people who aren’t feeling connected to our church. We’re certainly better at connecting with people as a result of these sessions.

What do you reckon? Can we plunder gold from the Egypt of Apple? Or is their approach to customer service too corporate and too focused on the “end” point of the cash register?
 

The author

Nathan runs St Eutychus. He loves Jesus. His wife. His daughter. His son. His other daughter. His dog. Coffee. And the Internet. He is the campus pastor at Creek Road South Bank, a graduate of Queensland Theological College (M. Div) and the Queensland University of Technology (B. Journ). He spent a significant portion of his pre-ministry-as-a-full-time-job life working in Public Relations, and now loves promoting Jesus in Brisbane and online. He can't believe how great it is that people pay him to talk and think about Jesus.